Keil and Delitzsch Commentary - Deuteronomy 17:14 - 17:14

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Keil and Delitzsch Commentary - Deuteronomy 17:14 - 17:14

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Choice and Right of the King. - Deu 17:14, Deu 17:15. If Israel, when dwelling in the land which was given it by the Lord for a possession, should wish to appoint a king, like all the nations round about, it was to appoint the man whom Jehovah its God should choose, and that from among its brethren, i.e., from its own people, not a foreigner or non-Israelite. The earthly kingdom in Israel was not opposed to the theocracy, i.e., to the rule of Jehovah as king over the people of His possession, provided no one was made king but the person whom Jehovah should choose. The appointment of a king is not commanded, like the institution of judges (Deu 16:18), because Israel could exist under the government of Jehovah, even without an earthly king; it is simply permitted, in case the need should arise for a regal government. There was no necessity to describe more minutely the course to be adopted, as the people possessed the natural provision for the administration of their national affairs in their well-organized tribes, by whom this point could be decided. Moses also omits to state more particularly in what way Jehovah would make known the choice of the king to be appointed. The congregation, no doubt, possessed one means of asking the will of the Lord in the Urim and Thummim of the high priest, provided the Lord did not reveal His will in a different manner, namely through a prophet, as He did in the election of Saul and David (1 Sam 8-9, and 16). The commandment not to choose a foreigner, acknowledged the right of the nation to choose. Consequently the choice on the part of the Lord may have consisted simply in His pointing out to the people, in a very evident manner, the person they were to elect, or in His confirming the choice by word and act, as in accordance with His will.

Three rules are laid down for the king himself in Deu 17:16-20. In the first place, he was not to keep many horses, or lead back the people to Egypt, to multiply horses, because Jehovah had forbidden the people to return thither by that way. The notion of modern critics, that there is an allusion in this prohibition to the constitution of the kingdom under Solomon, is so far from having any foundation, that the reason assigned - namely, the fear lest the king should lead back the people to Egypt from his love of horses, “to the end that he should multiply horses” - really precludes the time of Solomon, inasmuch as the time had then long gone by when any thought could have been entertained of leading back the people to Egypt. But such a reason would be quite in its place in Moses' time, and only then, “when it would not seem impossible to reunite the broken band, and when the people were ready to express their longing, and even their intention, to return to Egypt on the very slightest occasion; whereas the reason assigned for the prohibition might have furnished Solomon with an excuse for regarding the prohibition itself as merely a temporary one, which was no longer binding” (Oehler in Herzog's Cyclopaedia: vid., Hengstenberg's Dissertations).

(Note: When Riehm objects to this, that if such a prohibition had been unnecessary in a future age, in which the people had reached the full consciousness of its national independence, and every thought of the possibility of a reunion with the Egyptians had disappeared, Moses would never have issued it, since he must have foreseen the national independence of the people; the force of this objection rests simply upon his confounding foreseeing with assuming, and upon a thoroughly mistaken view of the prophet's vision of the future. Even if Moses, as “a great prophet,” did foresee the future national independence of Israel, he had also had such experience of the fickle character of the people, that he could not regard the thought of returning to Egypt as absolutely an impossible one, even after the conquest of Canaan, or reject it as inconceivable. Moreover, the prophetic foresight of Moses was not, as Riehm imagines it, a foreknowledge of all the separate points in the historical development of the nation, much less a foreknowledge of the thoughts and desires of the heart, which might arise in the course of time amidst the changes that would take place in the nation. A foresight of the development of Israel into national independence, so far as we may attribute it to Moses as a prophet, was founded not upon the character of the people, but upon the divine choice and destination of Israel, which by no means precluded the possibility of their desiring to return to Egypt, even at some future time, since God Himself had threatened the people with dispersion among the heathen as the punishment for continued transgression of His covenant, and yet, notwithstanding this dispersion, had predicted the ultimate realization of His covenant of grace. And when Riehm still further observes, that the taste for horses, which lay at the foundation of this fear, evidently points to a later time, when the old repugnance to cavalry which existed in the nation in the days of the judges, and even under David, had disappeared; this supposed repugnance to cavalry is a fiction of the critic himself, without any historical foundation. For nothing more is related in the history, than that before the time of Solomon the Israelites had not cultivated the rearing of horses, and that David only kept 100 of the war-horses taken from the Syrians for himself, and had the others put to death (2Sa 8:4). And so long as horses were neither reared nor possessed by the Israelites, there can be no ground for speaking of the old repugnance to cavalry. On the other hand, the impossibility of tracing this prohibition to the historical circumstances of the time of Solomon, or even a later age, is manifest in the desperate subterfuge to which Riehm has recourse, when he connects this passage with the threat in Deu 28:68, that if all the punishments suspended over them should be ineffectual, God would carry them back in ships to Egypt, and that they should there be sold to their enemies as men-servants and maid-servants, and then discovers a proof in this, that the Egyptian king Psammetichus, who sought out foreign soldiers and employed them, had left king Manasseh some horses, solely on the condition that he sent him some Israelitish infantry, and placed them at his disposal. But this is not expounding Scripture; it is putting hypotheses into it. As Oehler has already observed, this hypothesis has no foundation whatever in the Old Testament, nor (we may add) in the accounts of Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus concerning Psammetichus. According to Diod. (i. 66), Psammetichus hired soldiers from Arabia, Caria, and Ionia; and according to Herodotus (i. 152), he hired Ionians and Carians armed with brass, that he might conquer his rival kings with their assistance. But neither of these historians says anything at all about Israelitish infantry. And even if it were conceivable that any king of Israel or Judah could carry on such traffic in men, as to sell his own subjects to the Egyptians for horses, it is very certain that the prophets, who condemned every alliance with foreign kings, and were not silent with regard to Manasseh's idolatry, would not have passed over such an abomination as this without remark or without reproof.)

The second admonition also, that the king was not to take to himself many wives, and turn away his heart (sc., from the Lord), nor greatly multiply to himself silver and gold, can be explained without the hypothesis that there is an allusion to Solomon's reign, although this king did transgress both commands (1Ki 10:14. Deu 11:1.). A richly furnished harem, and the accumulation of silver and gold, were inseparably connected with the luxury of Oriental monarchs generally; so that the fear was a very natural one, that the future king of Israel might follow the general customs of the heathen in these respects.